American Hustle (2013) Review

24 12 2013
Image

Copyright Columbia Pictures 2013

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

So, the narrowing down of what film to go see yesterday came down to this film and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug; this one won out, but Smaug will probably be seen within the week since I’m off all week from work.

American Hustle takes place in 1978, and primarily follows the characters Irving Rosenfield (Christian Bale), a small time con-artist and dry cleaner owner, and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), his mistress and accomplice who mostly acts under a British alias of Lady Edith Greensly. After getting into a bind with the FBI, they agree to assist agent Ritchie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) on a small series of cons that eventually leads to hopeful nabbing of not only members of congress and popular Camden, N.J. mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), but also several high standing members of the mob. In the process, Rosenfield’s difficult wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), manages to get intertwined at all the wrong places at all the wrong times.

Director David O. Russell has definitely hit his stride with his past few films, solidifying himself as a writer/director to be reckoned with. This film expertly captures the gawdy era of the late 1970s, while carrying a very reminiscent feeling of a Martin Scorsese film from his heyday, especially Goodfellas and Casino. Hey, we even get a surprise cameo from Bobby D! 

The script is strong and has some surprising twists, it is shot beautifully and smartly, but where the film really shines is in its performances. Bale and Adams are absolutely superb, and Cooper and Renner are excellent supporting characters. Even from a physical perspective, Bale has completely transformed himself gaining some 65 pounds, and his New York accent is very impressive, especially knowing this is a Welshman playing the part.

I thoroughly enjoyed this film and would highly recommend it. I think we’re going to see a lot of this one through the awards season.





Greenberg (2010) Review

22 12 2013
Image

Copyright Focus Features 2010

★ ★ ★ 1/2

OK, I know I have neglected this site terribly, but I’m going to try my best to hop back on board with some regularity. Work, hobbies, social activities and just plain boring errands and such have literally eaten up most of my time as of late. However, in an effort to keep some form of consistency with the updates, I’m going to try to do “mini-reviews”. So, the new posts might not be as in depth as some of the old reviews, but at least there won’t be breaks of months on end.

OK, now on to Greenberg. After spending the better part of 30 minutes looking for something I either haven’t seen and/or was in the mood to see on Netflix, I came upon this quirky little flick. A Noah Baumbach film, I kind of knew what to expect going into it — your typical mumblecore, Woody Allen-lite pseudo-intellectual comedy-drama. And, guess what? That’s exactly what it turned out to be!

Ben Stiller plays the lead role of Roger Greenberg, a 40-something more-or-less unemployed ex-musician who just exited a mental hospital and is spending 6 weeks at his brother’s house in LA to focus on doing nothing. His brother, a wealthy hotelier is on vacation with the family in Vietnam, and LA also serves as Roger’s hometown, though he currently lives in New York, and seems to carry a New York-esque attitude about life in general.

His brother’s nanny/assistant, Florence, is played by stereotypical Baumbach-written female, Greta Gerwig — a slightly neurotic mid 20-something with low self esteem and seemingly no direction in life. As Greenberg revisits his old friends and former bandmates during his six week stay, he of course, begins a relationship of sorts with Florence that carries all the insecurities and road bumps of what we have come to expect from Baumbauch’s films.

I know I am weighing heavily on the stereotypical nature of this movie to its director’s style and canon; however, don’t get me wrong, Greenberg is not a bad film. It’s definitely not Baumbauch’s best work, but by no means bad. I enjoyed the film, and think anyone who has an affinity for oddball/neurotic romance films will enjoy. Yes, the main character of Roger Greenberg is fairly morose and pathetic to a degree, but Stiller’s performance helps you build enough empathy to accept him as a protagonist. 





Warm Bodies (2013) Review

15 06 2013
Warm_Bodies_Theatrical_Poster

Copyright 2013 Mandeville FIlms

★ ★ ★ ★

This was a film recommended by my girlfriend Maddie, and it turned out to be a very pleasant surprise! I had never heard of the movie before, or the book for that matter, so I really didn’t even have a frame of reference as to what the film was about before we started watching it.

The movie was written and directed by Jonathan Levine, who directed the 2011 comedy/drama 50/50 with Seth Rogan and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The screenplay is based on Isaac Marion’s novel of the same name. As strange as this sounds, the film is a romantic zombie comedy — pretty crazy, huh? Well, the novel take in this story on the zombie genre is that an actual zombie (Nicholas Hoult), who goes by “R” since he can’t remember his real name, is the protagonist. From my account, I’m not sure that a zombie film has ever taken this bold move; 90% of the time, the zombies are just the catalysts for the exploits of our living heros.

Anyway, R spends his days doing normal zombie stuff like roaming around, grunting and eating the living. However, deep inside of him, there is still a part of him that still feels like a living creature would and longs to be something other than a brain dead zombie. On the hunt for “food” one day, he catches the sight of Julie Grigio (Teresa Palmer), while eating her boyfriend’s brain I might add. Smitten by her, he saves her from the zombies, and brings her back to the airport where many of the zombies reside.

A friendship blossoms between them as she realizes that there is something underneath his undead outer appearance. As the story progresses, it begins to become apparent that he might not be the only zombie who feels something more than a desire for living human brains.

This is a very smart and well-written film. It’s fun to watch and constantly amuses, but is actually much deeper than that as a film, and in its social commentary on a higher level that people aren’t always what they seem. I highly recommend this movie and, so far, have found it one of my favorites of this year to date.





Forbidden Games (1952) Review

4 06 2013
Jeux_interdits

Copyright 1952 Silver Films

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

I was in a pretty open mood as far as movies were concerned yesterday, one of those rare times where almost any genre would do. Due to a tight time frame, Maddie and I were looking for something under an hour and a half, so we settled on the 1952 French war drama Forbidden Games.

The film, based on the novel Jeux interdits by Francois Boyer, was directed by renowned filmmaker Rene Clement and was the winner of multiple awards including the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film upon its release.

In 1940, during the German air assault of France, a crowded highway in the French countryside is bombarded. A young girl, Paulette (Brigitte Fossey), runs after her dog, Joch, after he jumps from her arms in fear of the bombs. Her parents pursue her in terror as the bombs and bullets fly down from overhead. In the aftermath, both of her parents and her little dog are slain. Alone and confused, she wanders from the dirge of people on the crowded highway into the wilderness with her deceased puppy in arms. Nearing a family farm, a young farm boy, Michel (Georges Pouljouly) finds her in the woods as he is wrangling a strayed cow. They make fast friends and he brings her back to his house. His poor family reluctantly agrees that she can stay, only out of disdain that the feuding neighbors might get rewarded for their patronage by taking her in their stead if they declined. Michel, who is schooled in his catechism quite well, tries to comfort the distressed Paulette over the loss of her parents and dog by explaining that people and pets can be buried in a cemetery under the rites of God and be accompanied by others so they won’t get lonely. The next day, they retrieve Joch from the woods where he was left, and bury him in the mill on the farm with a cross and last rites. Worried of his loneliness, young Paulette wants more animals for the cemetery and more and prettier crosses for their graves; Michel obliges and, perhaps, takes things too far resulting in renewed family strife.

There are a lot of powerful images in this film and scenes that are painfully realistic. Brigitte Fossey and Georges Pouljouly, just 6 and 12 at the time of filming, are tremendous on screen and have a wonderful chemistry together. Though much due needs to be given to these young actors, an almost equal amount needs to be given to Clement who would have had to have run a very nurturing and comfortable set to allow these young children to give the performances they gave. This film explores the innocence of childhood, especially in a time of chaos, and the very special bond between two children trying to cope with the circumstances surrounding them.

It’s always refreshing to see such a simple, yet moving story on the screen. Clement’s visual capture of the script was very unobtrusive, so the natural element of reality and humanism was preserved, which is what I think, makes this film such a powerful and moving movie to watch.





Cloud Atlas (2012) Review

30 05 2013

ImageIt has been some time since I have updated this blog and for that I sincerely apologize. Between work, a new hobby that has engulfed a lot of my time and resources (pinball collecting!) and life in general, I just haven’t taken the proper time to keep up with this blog. However, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been watching movies regularly. Movies have always and will always be a very important part of my life, and I am hoping that I can find the appropriate time to at least keep this blog up to a much better extent than I have over the past six to eight months. Enough apologies, on with the review!

Cloud Atlas is a film adaptation based on the 2004 novel of the same name by David Mitchell. Somewhat famously, it has become the most expensive independent film to ever be released, having been produced for nearly $100 million outside of the studio system. The narrative structure follows six distinct and separate storylines over six different time periods, and was a co-production between the Wachowskis of Matrix fame and Tom Tykwer who helmed such films as Run Lola Run and The Princess and the Warrior. By co-production, I mean this was very literally a co-production between the three, in that the script was written and re-written by all the involved, as well as the segments being  directed by the Wachowskis and Tykwer, respectively, with two totally separate crews working in parallel.

The separate storylines take place in the following times and places: The South Pacific Ocean, 1849; Great Britain, 1936; San Francisco, Calif., 1973; United Kingdom, 2012; Neo Seoul (Korea), 2144; and The Big Island, 2321. The characters in the respective storylines are portrayed by many of the same actors in different roles. Multiple performances are given by Tom Hanks, Halle Barry, Hugh Grant, Hugo Weaving, Jim Broadbent, Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw, James D’Arcy and Zhou Xun, among others. Each storyline is separate of the others outside of the unifying theme that history can and will repeat itself, and that there is an interrelation between people, places, time and the decisions they make.

At nearly 3 hours and with much intertwine between the six stories, the film has polarized critics and managed to end up on both best and worst film lists of the year. With that distinction in mind, it is a bit of a difficult film to review for a wide audience, so I will have to be rather subjective in my approach. For me, there were individual stories I enjoyed more than others out of the six, but none of them failed to pique my interest. I was thoroughly engaged throughout the entirety of the film and actually really connected with the moral of the story and the brilliant multi-faceted performances from the main cast. In time, I could very easily see this film achieving a cult status, as many experimental films do that are originally shunned or misunderstood by the mainstream upon release.

If you don’t mind a narrative structure that interweaves heavily and is primarily held together by the overarching theme of the film, then I think you will really enjoy this movie. However, if turbulent story structure and disjointed parallel structure turns you off, then this is definitely not the film for you.





The Master (2012) Review

16 10 2012

Copyright 2012 The Weinstein Company

★ ★ 1/2

Where to begin? Well, let’s start with this: When P.T. Anderson is “on,” he’s on fire; when he’s “off,” he has missed the mark by a mile. As much as I wanted this film to fall under the former half of my opinion on his career, it sadly, fell under the latter.

The Master is loosely (can I really even say that?) based on L. Ron Hubbard and his cult-like religion of scientology. Rather than saying the word “scientology”, we get “the cause”; rather than “auditing”, we get “processing”, and so on. Phillip Seymour Hoffman, a repertoire actor in P.T.’s films by this point, plays the part of Lancaster Dodd (i.e. L. Ron Hubbard), a self-professed philosopher, doctor, writer, raconteur, etc. He has a group of followers who abide closely to his ideals and processes, which include breaking yourself from your past lives through the method of “processing”, and other pseudo-psychological means. Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), is an ex-seaman, having served in the Navy during World War II, who not only harbors a good deal of agression, but also has an unhealthy drinking problem and some mental instability. By chance, Quell stows away on a yacht that Dodd is borrowing for his daughter’s (Ambyr Childers) wedding, and the two strike an odd friendship, ultimately leading to Quell becoming one of Dodd’s most devout followers. The remainder of the film follows each of these bizarre personalities as they weave in and out of each other’s lives.

There are elements of this film that work, but for the most part, this is a large, disjointed mess. Yes, the cinematography is beautiful, and, yes, Joaquin Phoenix gives a wonderful performance (despite the fact that I hated his character with a passion). But, all in all, this film is all over the place. It’s just one big, pretentious, boring mess, and it hurts when I see someone as talented as P.T. Anderson put out such a horrid film as this. This guy gave us Boogie Nights, Magnolia and There Will Be Blood for Christ’s sake! However, he’s also given us Punch-Drunk Love, which for me, was a big turd. One point of note that is a great high point for this film, however, that must get due mention, is Amy Adam’s knockout performance as Dodd’s fourth wife, Peggy. She definitely deserves a nod from the Academy for this one, and I’ll honestly be very surprised if she doesn’t.

Bottom line: don’t go see this film. Save yourself the time, the money and, most of all, the disappointment of seeing a respected director create such a terrible mess of a film.





A Separation (2011) Review

24 09 2012

Copyright 2011 Hopskotch Films

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

I finally got around to seeing this film recently and, if you haven’t seen this one yet, stop what you are doing right now, go to the local redbox, and rent this tonight.  Seriously, it’s the best film of last year, and I don’t mind saying that in the first sentence of my review, which says a lot.

Written and directed by Asghar Farhadi, this now Academy Award-winning film, stars well-known Irania actress Leila Hatami and Peyman Moadi as couple Simin and Nader.  Together, they have a adolescent daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi).  They reside in Nader’s father’s apartment, who is essentially an invalid due to the effects of Alzheimer’s disease.  When Nader refuses to leave their native country and his father, Simin demands a separation, to which he readily agrees.  With Simin leaving the household, Nader hires a sitter for his father, Razieh (Sareh Bayat).  However, after having to clean up an accident his father has on her first day, she tells Nader she can no longer do the job; the drive is too far, and she has religious concerns over touching his father to clean him up if he soils himself.  She, however, recommends her husband, Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini), who is out of work and deeply indebted to creditors.  The following day, when Hdjat can’t make it to the house due to a court appearance, Razieh, who is pregnant, returns with her young daughter to do the work.  However, she leaves his father unattended during the day for personal reasons.  When Nader comes home to find his father tied to a bed and nearly at a point of death, he blows up at Razieh when she returns.  The scuffle includes a slight physical interaction on his part; she, subsequently, miscarries her child.  It’s left to the court and the families to decide whether Nader is responsible.

This film, made on a minuscule budget compared to even independent American films, is a powerhouse dramatic effort.  The acting, directing, editing, cinematography, and most of all, wonderfully dramatic story, come together to create an engaging, passionate and engrossing film that will go down in history as a classic.  It’s once in a blue moon that you get to view a film that is as truly cinematic as this, and its always a special occasion that will be savored in an your mind long after it’s running time is over.

It’s films like this that renew my hope in cinema whenever the general Hollywood “fodder” has be down about the industry.  I can only hope that I can be a part of a film as special as this one day.





Woody Allen: A Documentary (2012) Review

4 08 2012

Copyright 2012 Whyaduck Productions

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2 (for Allen fans)

Most of you that know me personally, know that Woody Allen ranks as one of my all-time favorite filmmakers.  The first Allen film I ever saw was Purple Rose of Cairo soon after it came out on cable in the late 1980s, and from then on I was a fan.  I think the neurotic behavior that is evident in my own personality is infinitely relatable to his humor and films.  As I got older, I began watching more of his backlog and loyally viewing his new films each year at the theatre; yes, both the good ones and the bad ones.  I would estimate that I’ve seen 90% of his repertoire, including some of the early films that he just acted in and movies like Scenes from a Mall that he didn’t write or direct, but appeared in.  Over a long vacation to the northwest in 2000, I read the Eric Lax biography, and I have skimmed through several others from time to time since.  So, when this expansive documentary on his life and career came out last year by director Robert Weide, it immediately fell on my radar.

The film covers literally every facet of Allen’s life and has interviews with actors, friends, family, collaborators, parents, almost any willing participant they could find to comment on Allen’s work and life.  Furthermore, there are many segments of interviews that were shot with Allen himself, including his taking the crew on a tour of the neighborhood he grew up in in Brooklyn.  At well over 3 hours, we see Allen’s life from a boy in Brooklyn to comedy writer to acclaimed filmmaker evolve.  Outside of the amazing interviews, there is a plethora of behind-the-scenes footage from his films, rare photos and other interesting audio and video segments that help tell his story.  Nearly all of his films are featured, and though this film doesn’t tarnish Allen in any way, they didn’t omit a section regarding the scandal between he and Mia Farrow in the 1990s.

If you are a Woody Allen fan, this is a must see.  If not, it may not be your cup of tea.  Whether you love him or hate him though, it’s undeniable that his posterity and longevity as a filmmaker are quite an achievement, and along the way, he has given us more than a fair share of brilliant films in the canon of American Cinema.  Furthermore, few auteurs from any era can claim an ability to make us laugh, as well as engage in deep dramatic content.  Just think, Allen gave us Banannas as well as Match Point and Crimes and Misdemeanors.





The Five Coolest Time Machines in Movies and Television

16 07 2012

Since I’ve gotten my first light weekend in nearly two months, I figured I would post a bit more extensive an entry than the norm.  One of my favorite plot motivators is the concept of time travel.  I think almost anyone can garner some form of fascination with the idea of either moving forward on your personal timeline, or backwards; whether it is to see what happens to yourself, to change a regret from the past, or witness an historic event of some sort, time travel is just plain cool.  Over the years, there have been literally hundreds of movies, television series and television episodes that have dealt with the idea or process of time travel, and alternatively, there have been dozens of different ways, machines and methods in which to perpetuate this quantum phenomena.  So, because of such, I’ve decided to post an entry of my personal top 5 favorite methods of time travel in the movies and television:

5. THE NECRONOMICON (Army of Darkness – 1992)

What’s not to love about an ancient book that is steeped in Lovecraftian pseudo-horror culture?  An essential part of the entire Evil Dead series, this ancient book unleashes loads of troubles for the primary character, Ash, over three films.  In the third, however, it not only gives him a ridiculously fun to watch run-for-his-money, but also transports him back to medieval England where he gets to fight skeleton soldiers, demon knights and other creepy/silly abomonations.

Out of the entirety of this list, I have to say that this is probably the one most of us would be happy to not come across.  Though, as kids, many dream of finding some old book or relic in our grandparent’s attic that might have some kind of mystical power, this is most definitely not the book we would want to come across.  Traveling to medieval England sounds pretty cool, but fighting skeleton armies and demon knights does not….well, unless I get the chainsaw arm, then maybe…as long as I can still play guitar.

4. A TIME TURNER (from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – 2004

For a movie, and novel before that, that revolves around a magical school of witchcraft and wizardry, it was only fitting to have a device that could manipulate time at some point in the series.  The Time Turner, a relic that resembled an hourglass on a necklace, could travel back in time a short distance corresponding to the number of times it was turned.  Though only for going back in time a mere few hours, this device played a major role in the ending plot of the third Harry Potter movie/novel.  Given to Hermione Granger by Professor McGonagall, Harry and Hermione use the device to rescue a magical beast, Buckbeak, before his untimely demise which had already happened by the time the device is used.  This device also signifies a realization of Harry’s that awakens a power from deep within, a scene which is one of my all-time favorites in the entire Harry Potter series (of which, of course, I am a megafan and not afraid to admit it).

Though the device can only go back a few hours in time, on a lot of occasions, that would be all you need!  Imagine how many things you could change if you could just buy an hour or two back to slightly change your actions, decisions or direction.  How easy all those careless mistakes would be to change in the blink of an eye! (or turn of a weird looking necklace…)

3. THE TIME MACHINE (from The Time Machine – 1960)

Did you really expect me not to include this one on the list?  Based on the H.G. Wells classic, this is the standard for which all other time machines were founded.  Over the years, there have been many adaptations of Wells’s classic science-fiction novel; however, it is generally accepted that this one by director George Pal stands a head above the rest.  Rod Taylor plays the eponymous Time Traveller and the device itself is everything you would imagine a time machine to be, a strange looking car-like chair with a whirly gong-thing on the back.  Well, anyway, it looks like a vehicle and it has those strange additions which have come commonplace in time travel narratives attached.  A classic example, and the basis of nearly all those to come; however, not the coolest one!

2. DOC BROWN’S DELOREAN (from Back to the Future – 1985)

A DeLorean could very well be called one of the ugliest cars in existence, but there was just something so damned cool about them!  I don’t know whether it was the stainless steel exterior, the space age like black leather interior with funny looking knobs all over the place, or the iconic gullwing doors, but anytime I’ve ever crossed one, I couldn’t help but stop and stare.

When Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale were considering what the time traveling device in their new script should be way back in 1984, they decided to find something that would appear futuristic to people of 1955, where the back-in-time narrative takes place.  They decided on the DeLorean DMC-12, and I couldn’t agree more, people in 1955 would have surely thought it from another planet.  Powered by a central processing device known as the flux capacitor, this baby ate plutonium for fuel and whizzed through time at precisely 88 miles per hour.  If I could figure out the conversion kit on an old DMC-12 to install a flux capacitor and time controls, you better believe there would be one in my garage.  As Doc Brown said in the first installment, “If you are going to travel through time, you might as well do it in style!”

1. TARDIS (from Doctor Who – 1963-1989, 2005-present)

Ah, the TARDIS, the constant companion to the Doctor.  Standing for Time And Relative Dimension In Space, the TARDIS is a Galifreyan (the Doctor’s home planet) time traveling device that could cloak itself to be literally anything for cover; unfortunately, it got stuck as a 1960s London police box.

Over time, the Doctor learned to love it’s constant shielding, and the TARDIS has remained stuck on that exterior setting ever since.  I don’t think anything could be more quirky, fun or insanely silly to travel through time and space in, but when you get right down to it, it is very, very cool.  Bigger on the inside than the outside, the TARDIS has seemingly endless rooms and compartments that contain seemingly endless items and relics within.  It’s built like a tank, has a killer coat of blue on the outside and can translate any language in the galaxy for you just by being close by!  If any of you have known what it is like to love a car or boat, it could only pale in comparison to the Doctor’s love of the TARDIS.  And, after enough episodes, you start to love it to, which makes it the list topper of my all-time coolest time machines in the movies and television!

*I didn’t forget Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, but they paid homage to the TARDIS, so the TARDIS wins out.





Slaughterhouse-Five (1972) Review

4 06 2012

Copyright 1972 Universal Pictures

★ ★ ★ ★

Kurt Vonnegut is one of my favorite authors.  I absolutely adore his style, wittiness and straightforwardness in his prose, and like many others, the novel “Slaughterhouse-Five” was my introduction to him.  With the novel being held to such high regard for me personally, I was a bit nervous going into this film.  However, though slow to begin, the movie was actually quite well done.

Directed by George Roy Hill, this film sat nicely between Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and his phenomenally huge success with The Sting the following year.  Michael Sacks stars as the protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, who becomes, famously, unstuck in time.  Like the novel, the narrative of Billy’s life jumps back and forth through his timeline with heavy emphasis on his time in Germany during World War II.  Vonnegut, himself a POW during World War II in Dresden when it was bombed, tells his autobiographical tale of the feelings he encountered and the time there vicariously through the fictitious Pilgrim.  Through Pilgrim’s turmoil during the war, his average subsequent life and, ultimately bizarre encounters in the world of Tralfamadore, we see the portrait of a man who was forever changed by the moments he experienced during the brief part of his life he lived as a soldier.

Sacks, who went on to be a top executive in the financial sector with such companies as Morgan Stanley after leaving his acting career in the mid 1980s, does a reputable job in the lead role.  His nuances playing the older Pilgrim were quite well timed in contrast to the young Pilgrim, this being especially impressive considering that Sacks was only 24-years-old at the time of filming.  George Roy Hill as a director has never wooed me to any speakable degree, but he is a solid director, and for that I laud his talents more than someone who tries to thrill you with each and every shot like Terrence Malick.  A director’s job is to select the shots and direct the actors to performances that best suit the story; Roy Hill seems to pass this test with flying colors in each and every one of the films of his I have seen.  Some of the best magic is that which tricks, but doesn’t overwhelm the eye.  The cinematography by Miroslav Ondricek was very pleasant.  Tinged with the grittiness of early 1970s experiments in faster film stock, the naturalness and softness of the light were provocative of this era, one of my favorites in the evolution of the motion picture.

If you loved the book, you will like the movie.  As far as adaptations go, it’s probably one of the better ones.  If you’ve never read the book and plan on never doing so, then well, shame on you, but you’ll probably like the movie too.








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